Kurdish and Iraqi forces drove out the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) militants from Jalawla, which is 90 miles northeast of Baghdad, on November 23, 2014. While it should be a joyous occasion, residents cannot enter because a fight over the town is brewing between the victors.
Four months later, Jalawla is still empty. Over 30,000 people used to live in the thriving community, but now they reside in “camps for internally displaced persons in neighboring towns” or chose to live in ISIS territory. The town is split between the Asayish, the intelligence and security force of the Kurdistan government, peshmerga, and Shi’ite militias. Residents return during the day to gather personal property, but are not allowed to sleep overnight.
The publication Al-Monitor spent some time in the city. Journalist Shelly Kittleson documented what she witnessed:
In late March, pickup trucks loaded with mattresses, furniture and other items from homes and shops were spotted in the deserted streets during the several hours Al-Monitor spent in Jalawla, roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, bordering Iran.
The destruction wrought by the monthslong battle for Jalawla is immediately apparent in the rain-filled craters outside the rubble of the old security headquarters, crumpled concrete roofs, mangled bridges and downed power lines.
Victory is trumpeted by the yellow, red and green Kurdish flags flying over various buildings and small green Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) flags strung across central streets. Somewhat ominously, a green Shiite religious banner has been raised atop the minaret of a Sunni mosque. Asayish officers bluntly refused to comment on it.
The Iraqi government controlled Jalawla until ISIS took over. Kurdistan claims the Kurds owned the town “until the 1970s, when Saddam Hussein brought in Sheikh Faisal’s Karwiya tribe to ‘Arabise’ the area.” Someone spray painted “Jalawla is Kudistani” on a bakery while the Shi’ite militia “drive a pick-up truck with a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” plastered on it.
In December, residents told Reuters the militias frighten them.
“We want to go back but the militias will slaughter us,” explained a 40-year-old farmer. “We ask the peshmerga to annex Jalawla and Saadiya to the (Kurdistan) region so we can live in peace.”
An Asayish officer told Al-Monitor there are “[N]o more than 50 Shiite militants” in Jalawla. Kittleson said “it is unclear why they are remaining there” since the Kurdish forces “do not allow them to move freely” in the city. Another officer claimed the Shi’ites only made up “around 2%” of the total population before ISIS conquered the town.
Sheikh Faisal’s family members want the town to remain under Baghdad’s control.
“We won’t accept Jalawla remaining in Kurdish clutches,” claimed Zumhar Jamal al-Karwi, Faisal’s nephew. “If they cling to it by force, it will be retaken by force. We are prepared to fight against the Kurds alongside the militias unless the peshmerga leave Jalawla.”